Having grown as a player and person, could Packers’ Marquez Valdes-Scantling be in for a huge year?
JASON WILDE For the State Journal
Sep 3, 2021
JASON WILDE For the State Journal
GREEN BAY — Marquez Valdes-Scantling insisted that nothing has changed. He hasn’t altered his mentality. His confidence hasn’t skyrocketed. While he acknowledged that he’s grown a bit as a human being, he chalked that up to the passage of time, and nothing else.
As proof, here are a few of the things the Green Bay Packers No. 2 wide receiver said during a 15-minute Q&A session with reporters Thursday afternoon:
On what has changed for him this year: “Time. That’s about it. There’s not really anything past that. I’m still the same guy. I haven’t done anything different.”
On if he’s in a different place in his mental approach: “No, not necessarily. I would say, just want to keep getting better year in and year out, just keep growing as a player on and off the field. It’s not anything that I’ve done to say, ‘Yeah, I want to be a better player or better person.’
On how much his confidence has grown after his successes last season: “(It’s) the same as it’s always been — high. There’s no time where my confidence is low. Contrary to popular belief, my confidence is always high, no matter what’s going on, no matter if it’s a dropped ball or a missed block. ... So, anything that y’all say or my teammates say or anybody says, it won’t ever affect me because I probably already said it to myself 1,000 times. So it won’t ever have an effect on my confidence — ever.”
All of which was very interesting, since plenty of those who have been observing Valdes-Scantling and spending time with him on and off the field see him as vastly different than he’d been in the not-too-distant past.
For instance, when asked about the training camp Valdes-Scantling had this summer, quarterback Aaron Rodgers responded by saying: “You know, I don’t even want to talk about the receiver, I want to talk about the person. The person is in a way different head space. I think he is so settled mentally, very clear, very present. … He’s become a true professional. There were times a couple of years ago where we didn’t know if we could count on him because he was inconsistent in his practice habits and his daily habits. But that’s not the Marquez that I know now.”
Then, there was head coach Matt LaFleur’s observation: “I’ve seen a guy do a total 180. I don’t want to make it sound like he wasn’t a good practice player before ... but I would tell you from the moment he steps on that field, whether it’s in pre-practice in our stretching routine, I think he’s got a different mindset about it, and I think it’s translated to his play, his ability to produce consistently in practice. We’ve all seen the great flashes that he’s been able to show, and, because there’s some big time moments that he’s had. I just think that they’re happening much more consistently now, and I think that’s a credit to his approach and where he’s at mentally.”
And, finally, there was this, from wide receivers coach Jason Vrable, who spends more time with Valdes-Scantling than any other coach: “I think just his maturity overall, just he's grown as a human being, I think everyday he comes into this building, I just feel a purpose with him to get better. … I can't wait to see where this season takes him. The way his mindset is right now, I’m really excited about him.”
Rodgers is, too. The three-time NFL MVP hasn’t always seen what he wanted to see out of the speedy, talented Valdes-Scantling, but he’s clearly invested in MVS to a greater degree than ever before and has spoken glowingly about him repeatedly this summer. Rodgers even when so far as to visit the local Barnes & Noble bookstore on Oneida Street to not only support a brick-and-mortar bookshop in the age of Amazon but to pick up some required reading for MVS in his journey of self-improvement.
“Got him a little starter pack on some books I thought he would like,” Rodgers bragged. “He’s a way different person. He is very present, very professional. He’s a leader now in the room, he’s very comfortable with the scheme.
“I’m really, really proud of him. It’s not surprising to me that his growth on the field has really come with growth off the field. The word ‘maturity’ is probably overused at times — and maybe has a negative connotation, like there was some sort of immaturity before — but he definitely has a calm way about him now that he might not have had as a younger player.”
Valdes-Scantling reiterated Thursday what he’d said at the start of camp, that being an impending free agent won’t be a distraction to him at all this season. But there’s no denying that he has a chance to cash in big-time if he takes his big-play, down-the-field talents and adds more production on short and intermediate routes.
He resuscitated his career last year, going from losing the No. 2 receiver job and playing one singular snap in the 2019 NFC Championship Game to catching 33 passes for 690 yards and six touchdowns, leading the NFL in yards per catch (20.9) and catching four passes for 115 yards (including a 50-yard touchdown pass) in the Packers’ NFC Championship Game loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Well aware of his ability to take the top off opposing defenses, LaFleur, Vrable and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett wanted to see marked improvement from him this summer in the rest of his game — and they have.
“He can run. A lot of people know that. I think for him, his precision in route running has improved dramatically,” Hackett said. “From the standpoint of a defense, what you’re going to do? If they’re afraid of him as a deep threat, they’ll play certain defenses that give him those more precision routes. But you’ve got to make that decision now: Are you going to take away the precision routes, or are you going to take away the deep ball?
“Him improving that world of his routes has been really exciting for us, and we’re excited to see the things we can do with him now that he’s added to his repertoire."